Rise in City’s Jobless Rate Continues to Outpace Hiring

No matter how much hiring companies in New York City do, the city’s unemployment rate keeps rising.

It rose again in March, to 9.7 percent, from 9.6 percent in February, and is now nearly as high as it was at the depth of the recession. But, at the same time, the State Labor Department said, the number of jobs in the city continued to rise at a healthy pace.

The city added more jobs last month than it typically does in March, with hiring especially strong in education, health services and business and professional services, said James P. Brown, principal economist for the New York State Department of Labor. Still, Mr. Brown added, the city’s unemployment rate has risen each month of 2012, while the national rate has fallen to 8.2 percent.

“The unemployment rate continues to trend upward and, at this point, the increase is significant,” Mr. Brown said. “It’s gone up pretty steadily this year.”

The rising unemployment rate has confounded economists and elected officials, who keep pointing to the simultaneous increase in jobs as evidence that the city’s economy is recovering from the financial crisis. In the last 12 months, employment in the city’s private sector has increased by 68,700 jobs, or 2.1 percent, the Labor Department reported. That was slightly faster than the national growth rate of 2 percent for the year through March.

Indeed, New York City and the entire state now have regained all of the private-sector jobs lost during the recession, Mr. Brown said. But the city has continued to attract job-seekers, an influx that can push up the unemployment rate until the newcomers find work. Another complication is that the unemployment rate is calculated from a survey of city residents, while the jobs data comes from a survey of employers.

The reported gain of more than 42,000 jobs already this year would be one of the biggest increases in any three-month period in the last 12 years, said Barbara Byrne Denham, an economist with Eastern Consolidated, a real estate services firm in Manhattan. That growth appears out of line with the recent activity in the office-leasing market, which has been quite weak, she said.

“This third month in a row of sizable gains is not only remarkable but confounding,” Ms. Denham said. “While some anecdotal evidence has indicated that employers are feeling more confident about economic conditions, plenty of other statistics suggest that headwinds continue to weigh on the economy: the national employment trend has decelerated, the stock market declined this month and many are still concerned about the situation in Europe.”

Ms. Denham, who performs her own calculations each month to adjust the city’s jobs data for seasonal fluctuations in hiring, estimated that the city added 13,100 private-sector jobs in March. Wall Street shed about 800 jobs last month, but has still gained over all in 2012.

Mr. Brown said employment on Wall Street “is gradually declining, but I think it’s above the levels people were expecting six months ago.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg sought to emphasize the positive aspect of the latest economic news. “It’s encouraging that our private sector continues to add jobs,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “which is the most reliable sign that New York City’s economy continues to grow.”

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